The Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday that the “money laundering conviction and 13-year prison term” handed down to James Ibori, the former governor of oil-rich Delta state is a “landmark in the global fight against corruption” and a lesson for corrupt government officials.
Ibori, who pleaded guilty in a London court to charges of money laundering to the tune of more than $79 million, was sentenced today for crimes that presiding Judge Pitts called “unquantifiable”.
“The world has just got smaller for government officials who believe they can loot their country’s resources with impunity,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “By prosecuting Ibori, the UK authorities have struck a blow not only against financial crimes at home, but also against impunity for corruption around the globe.”
Ibori, for many years one of Nigeria’s most powerful and wealthy politicians, was governor of Delta State in the oil-rich Niger Delta. During Ibori’s eight years in office, from 1999 to 2007, the state government received several billion dollars in oil revenue, according to financial records published by Nigeria’s Finance Ministry.
Yet there was very little to show in Delta State for all this revenue. The state’s public schools crumbled, while primary health clinics remained dilapidated and lacked basic supplies and medicines, Human Rights Watch said.
A police official who headed Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) tried to bring Ibori to justice in 2007. Ibori allegedly bribed him to drop the investigation. When the official further pursued the case, he was removed from office.
Ibori might have been untouchable in Nigeria, but not in the United Kingdom, where he had laundered some of his stolen money. London’s Metropolitan Police Service secured an order from a London court, in 2007, to freeze $35 million worth of his foreign assets, including a private jet.
“This case was not just about financial transactions in British banks,” said Bekele. “It was about acknowledging global responsibility for helping to stop the devastating human cost of corruption in Nigeria.”
Across Nigeria, ordinary citizens have seen little benefit from the country’s tremendous oil wealth, Human Rights Watch said. Maternal mortality rates are among the world’s highest, and poverty rates continue to climb.
Public funds that could have been used to improve schools and health facilities have instead been squandered and siphoned off by the country’s ruling elite. Human Rights Watch has documented how in some cases powerful politicians have used the vast wealth at their disposal to arm criminal gangs that fuel political violence.
Despite the EFCC’s efforts in Nigeria to combat endemic government corruption – since 2005, the agency has arraigned 19 former state governors on corruption charges – not a single senior politician or government official in Nigeria is currently serving any prison time for these crimes.